There is an enormous amount that I could say about my personal philosophy of life. Not that I have answers, mind you, but I spend a lot of time thinking about philosophical questions. However, I don't have the time to write a complete essay, so I'll just say a word or two here.
For many people, religion is the basis or even the entirety of their philosophical beliefs. That's not really the case for me, but I may as well begin with religion anyway. Starting sometime when I was in elementary school, my family began attending the Unitarian Universalist church in Lincoln, Nebraska. I won't say that Unitarianism is the basis of my outlook on the world, but in general I do agree with the UUA principles. I very much appreciate the "religious education" that I got there growing up: it was my first exposure to a wide variety of religious beliefs and different perspectives on the world. I don't think I could bear to see my children taught to believe any particular dogma, but since I think it's important to introduce them to questions of religion and philosophy I wouldn't be surprised if I find a Unitarian church to attend when I actually have children to worry about.
At the moment, I am not affiliated with any particular church or religious organization. I believe that there is deep truth to be found in the holy books and views of many faiths: I have read much of the Bible, but also Lao Tsu, Confucius, and a fair scattering of others (I keep meaning to read more, but I never seem to find the time). I also believe that there is truth to be found in good fiction, in secular philosophy, and by studying the universe itself (I am a physicist, after all). I have yet to find a text, religious or secular, that I believe to be flawless or to hold perfect truth, and to be honest I can't imagine myself ever taking such a belief. I do not believe that the search for truth will ever reach a definitive end, in any field.
I am a moral absolutist, in that I believe that there are some situations in which a true, fundamental distinction between right and wrong exists. (For example, killing another person is an great absolute wrong in my book, although I accept that there are a handful of situations in which one must choose the least of great evils.) On the other hand, I believe that societies, ours included, tend to think of some things as moral absolutes which do not deserve that title. (I have trouble even understanding why so many people see homosexuality as intrinsically wrong, for instance.) How can one decide what is good and what is evil? I honestly don't know a good answer to this one, except by appealing to Plato: on some deep level, you just know. If the Bible or some other "authority" said one thing and my heart said another, I would go with that inner voice every time. I would love to see a major psychological study done on a great many societies (particularly societies with minimal contact with the rest of humanity) to see what common principals emerge, if any. Of course, designing an unbiased study would be next to impossible, and the results wouldn't hold any particularly deep meaning for me anyway, but it would be interesting.
One of my most fundamental moral beliefs is that the rights of sentient beings are supreme. I'm not too clear on how to draw a line to decide who (and what) is sentient and who isn't, so I tend to err on the side of caution. (For example, I think there is enough of a chance that dolphins are sentient that we should never allow harm to come to them when we are fishing, any more than we should allow harm to come to scuba divers when we are fishing.) Just slightly less important to me are the rights of all living things. I believe that no living things should be harmed or killed without good reason, and that we should think twice before killing other living things even if it would clearly benefit us (or other sentient things). Of course, I don't take this to anything approaching an extreme: I am by no means a vegetarian, and at least for now I don't think that I am a hypocrite. I hold life to be sacred, and I try to make choices consistent with that belief. Finally, while I can't really express it in terms of "rights", I believe that we should be respectful even of inanimate things in the world around us, and not harm them or destroy them without cause. Perhaps I just associate entropy with evil in the depths of my mind, but I see pointless destruction as a bad thing.
One final note, and then I really will bring this to a close. I try to be very aware of everything that goes on around me, and to recognize as many of the possible explanations for what I observe as I can. In particular, I think it is important to be aware of the worst possible situations that are likely to exist, and to have plans in mind to deal with them. However, having recognized and to some degree planned for those possibilities, I live my life under the belief that the best reasonable explanation for the facts is true. I simply find that life is a great deal more pleasant that way, and that openly showing trust for others can in fact help to avoid the bad possibilities in the first place. I have lived my life this way for a long time, so when I found the quote from Confucius on my main page, I was very happy to see that I had reached fundamentally the same conclusion that he had.
I could say a great deal more, but that will have to wait for some later time. For now, I'll also include a link to some comments on religion that I made on the Tolkien newsgroups in an off-topic discussion some time ago.
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